Colin Holderman will likely enter the 2024 season as the primary setup man for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Carmen Mlodzinski could unseat him
Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Colin Holderman had a solid, but up-and-down 2023 season. Holderman’s season ended on a sour note, as he allowed three earned runs in his final outing, including some very wild pitches before landing on the IL with a thumb injury. While Holderman didn’t have a bad year (far from it), his role as the team’s set-up man should be his to lose, but Carmen Mlodzinski's to gain going into next season.
Holderman ended the 2023 campaign with a 3.83 ERA, 3.29 FIP, and 1.34 WHIP across 56 innings of work. Holderman posted solid peripherals, including a 24.2% strikeout rate, 8.3% walk rate, and 0.64 HR/9. While his 89.1 MPH exit velocity and 43.1% hard-hit rate were below average, he had a barrel rate of just 5%, which was in the top 88th percentile. His 52.8% ground ball rate also ranked top 30 among qualified relievers.
Overall, it was far from a bad year for Holderman. Really, most of his worst outings came in the days he was injured. The last game where he threw multiple extremely wild pitches and allowed three earned runs, along with his games in June before he landed on the IL for most of the month account for nine of his 24 earned runs allowed. Despite making up over a third of his earned runs, the innings he pitched in these outings make up less than 10% of his total innings. If you take out his June outings and his final game, that’s a 2.63 ERA, a massive 1.20 run difference.
But even with that good of numbers when he wasn’t pitching injured, the set-up man could be his to lose next season. Rookie right-handed reliever Mlodzinski came up big in the second half of the year, pitching to a 2.25 ERA, 4.03 FIP, and 1.28 WHIP. Some might point to his 22.4% strikeout rate and 11.8% walk rate as indicators he’s not ready for the high leverage role, but if you ask me, Mlodzinski came through more often in the second half when it mattered the most, and the numbers support that.
In high-leverage innings, Mlodzinski held batters to a .227/.280/.341 triple-slash. He struck out 26% of opponents with an 8% walk rate while allowing just three extra base hits to 50 batters. In late and close games, Mlodzinski owned a .225/.297/.288 slash, had a 24.2% strikeout rate, a 9.9% walk rate, and allowed only three XBH to 91 batters.
Holderman pitched much worse in similar situations. When he was handed high-leverage games, he let batters hit .287/.373/.423 with an 11.7% walk rate and 20.4% strikeout rate. When Holderman was asked to take over a late and close game, he had a .295/.355/.417 triple-slash against, an improved 8.3% walk rate, but a worse 19.9% strikeout rate.
Holderman should go into next season with the 8th inning set-up role, but not guaranteed to keep it. Mlodzinski’s season was extremely promising, especially given how well he pitched in high leverage. When Holderman got injured, Mlodzinski took over the 8th inning role without any problems. I don’t think the Pirates should just automatically take the 8th inning set-up man role away from Holderman, but he should have to prove he deserves the role, especially if Mlodzinski keeps performing extremely well and puts him on the hot seat.